Insects with certain genes may be able to better survive climate change

November 12, 2019

Researchers at Tufts University have discovered genes that allow some insects to adjust their biological clocks to survive shorter or longer winters, improving their chances of adapting to climate change.

During their study, researchers examined the circadian clock genes of the European borer moth (Ostrinia nubilalis) and discovered variation in two of the genes that allow certain groups of the insects to adjust more easily.

"We can now start to look at these genes in other insects, to see how variation might be linked to changes in timing for when they go dormant before winter, and when they 'wake up' in the spring," Genevieve Kozak, one of the study's authors, told the National Science Foundation. "By knowing a little bit about the proteins these genes code for, we can start connecting molecular mechanisms to insect behavior and physiological response to climate."

Being able to wake earlier in the springtime is an essential part of adjusting to climate change for many insect species.

As global temperatures increase, winters will ultimately become shorter, and the ability of insects to adjust to shorter winters will determine their survival. Being able to emerge from their winter state earlier will allow insects with these genes to cultivate a larger population.

The researchers, funded by the National Science Foundation, published their findings in Current Biology.

Photo by Frank Peairs, Colorado State University

Insects with certain genes may be able to better survive climate change